Bad Advisors; Good Jobs

Got two articles out this week; first one’s on Vitae and it’s inspired by some of the comments I’ve gotten on this very blog, from dissertators with the Worst Advisers Ever. Here’s a taste:

Here’s what I mean when I say that too many dissertation advisers are guilty of dereliction of duty: I’m talking about advisers who fail to provide constructive and useful mentorship at every step of the dissertation process, from the first book cracked to the final polish. This should be nonnegotiable. Hey, graduate faculty: You want so badly to preserve your Ph.D. programs, with little remorse about foisting graduates upon a carcass-strewn jobless dystopia? Actually advising dissertations well is the price for that.

And, just this second, here’s the article I wrote for Slate inspired by the “alt-ac” conference I attended this week (and thanks to Sean Goudie and Penn State for having me out there; it was great, AND BONUS, the hotel had a giant bushel of fresh Honeycrisp apples for guests, and I am unashamed to say I took home as many as my backpack would fit).

The “alt-ac” conference had A LOT of interesting conversations, but the one I chose to focus on for Slate is sort of the most basic conversation of all: Why is “alt-ac” even a thing? Why aren’t there just “jobs”? This is NOT by ANY MEANS the full extent of my feelings about “alt-ac” or my rundown of what happened at the symposium, which was far more multivalent than one short article aimed at a non-academic audience will allow. But, I think it’s an interesting glimpse, for Normals, as to why the idea of getting a job with a PhD is more complicated than they think. Anyway, here’s another taste:

The academic aversion to real-world work experience has even leaked into the professoriate itself, with stellar job candidates with years of relevant experience as adjuncts being dismissed outrightpreciselybecause of this experience, in favor of brand-spanking-new Ph.D.s with boundless “potential.” Indeed, academia is the only profession I can think of (besides, perhaps, the world’s oldest) in which experience counts against you.

And, yes, there will be a new Rate My JIL tomorrow, provided that there are any ads to rate.

9 thoughts on “Bad Advisors; Good Jobs

  1. That’s so interesting, I always thought an “alt-ac” job was basically just a non-faculty job at a higher education institution, or somewhere affiliated with a higher ed institution, like a university press. I thought the point of “alt-ac” was that people with PhDs didn’t want to leave the academy entirely so they found a way to be a part of it in a different way. Perhaps I’ve been misunderstanding everyone all along.


  2. You know, somebody really needs to talk about master’s students, too. Although I understand that doing a Ph.D. is the peak of self-abnegation, a lot of this grief is also experienced by those of us coming up through the ranks. We, too, get the crappy advising, the crappy teaching, and most of the 100 soul-destroying reasons you shouldn’t do this.


  3. I could probably write another dissertation (thesis here in the UK) on the student-advisor relationship, but I have to say that, while I think you are doing a brilliant job helping out those unfortunate souls who are stuck with a demented advisor (you forgot to add the sexual predator to your list….), I imagine that less financially fortunate students get shafted once more, and I cannot help but thinking that this is the way that academia once more manages to expel from its body those that do not belong to the elite. I am sure professors are probably at least dimly aware that those who can, will avail themselves of all the help they can get, and in the end produce the dissertation they are required to produce. The others? Well, fuck them.


  4. Great alt-ac article. I knew some PhDs who did not work in the academy before I went back to grad school. The good news is, those people don’t think of themselves as “alt-ac” or as failures, despite what their advisors/depts may have thought of them. Those people think of themselves as what they are. For example, I know a person who owns a video production company who, about 10 years ago, got a PhD in an MLA field. She thinks of herself as a video producer and business owner. Her PhD gets her reactions of “you have a PhD in MLA FIeld? cool!” from others. Basically, she could give two shits about what her old advisor thinks. Same goes for a guy I know who works as a HS English teacher and department chair. He has a PhD in English and is perfectly happy in his current job. His PhD earns him extra respect from colleagues and a higher salary. My point is that once you leave the academy, it doesn’t matter what the academy thinks of you…..because you are no longer around those people and opinions. I know that your point is that the transition needs to be made less scary for current students. There are SO many people out there with PhDs who are not in the academy and who have fulfilling, productive careers. It’s just difficult to see them or quantify them, precisely because they are no longer there. I’m grateful I know such people though, and also that I had a career before grad school. At this point I just want to get my degree and move on, since – welp – Italian had ONE posting on the JIL this week. And it was for a renewable 3-yr contract. Wide world, here I come!


    • Yeah, once you’re out for like, oh I don’t know, a month, meeting other people, doing other things, you do indeed stop giving two shits about what some poorly dressed shut-ins think of you “wasting” your life away from your research. If you want to be highly entertained, read the Slate comment about how nobody outside the academy does any worthwhile research.


      • Ah yeah the one about how if you’re not working in the academy it’s because you’re not producing new, exciting research? It’s great. Because obviously the number of TT jobs advertised is directly pegged to the number of people doing exciting research. There’s no other explanation for the crisis.


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